Selling Out Resistance

by Amelia Meister

Behind closed doors, shortly before COP21 in Paris, the Alberta NDP government met with the leaders of four major tar sands oil producers and four major Non-Governmental Organization (NGOs) that oppose them. What came out of this meeting was a pathetic agreement between all parties that touts “sustainable development” of the tar sands.

The NGOs represented were Equiterre, ForestEthics, the Pembina Institute and Environmental Defence. If you don’t know about these NGOs then let me put them into perspective. ForestEthics, in 2014, spent 1.5 million dollars on their anti-tarsands campaigns, the most of any of their campaigns. In 2012, major social justice lawyer Clayton Ruby joined the organization to push it into the limelight for the good work that it was doing against the tar sands. In short, these are major NGOs with significant resources and support bases. These NGOs have been one of many vocal thorns in the side of tarsands development reaching a wide audience through radio and print ads that more grassroots groups couldn’t afford.

However, what was once direct opposition to any development of the tar sands has become a support for a new agreement with oil conglomerates. The agreement between the Alberta NDPs and the oil companies, supported by these four NGOs is a cap on emissions and development. However, the cap is forty percent greater than current development and emissions. This is hardly a revolutionary deal. Anti-pipeline and anti-tarsands activism, including actions from these four NGOs, has slowed down investment and development in the tar sands and their affiliated pipelines. I wonder, with this new endorsement of “sustainable development”, how these NGOs will continue to be a voice of opposition to the tar sands. If all opposition continued to present a united resistance, development could have been slowed even further, instead of capped at something greater than it is now.

It is jeopardizing to the anti-­tarsands and anti-pipeline movement when the more mainstream view of what is possible consists of “sustainable development” and creating relationships with oil companies for “workable solutions”. Resistance to the tar sands cannot coincide with collaborating with oil companies. There is no such thing as sustainable development of the tar sands. The only sustainable option is for them to cease to exist, something that these NGOs have apparently forgotten. Any development of the tar sands is destructive not only to the delicate boreal forest ecosystem but to the indigenous nations affected by the pollution and deforestation. There was no consultation in this agreement with the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. These NGOs claim some sort of solidarity with Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island and yet have no problem negotiating a secret deal with oil corporations and government without any consultation. This is yet another perpetuation of the broken colonial systems that allow the tar sands to continue. While it is not surprising that this happened, the non-profit industrial complex continues to perpetuate the patterns of capitalistic and colonial ecological destruction. We must, then, continue direct action, in solidarity with Indigenous peoples, to apply the pressure that these NGOs have ceased to offer.


 

Amelia Meister
Amelia Meister is a poet, healer and radical single mother. She believes in working hard, loving fiercely and grieving deeply. Her writing appears in a monthly column in the Guelph Mercury and her words have been shared on many stages across Canada.

Awakening

a black and white illustration of a goldfish with a blue background

by Amai Kuda

For each of us, the process and timing of political awakening is different. My mother named me Salmon, she said I looked at her like a judge when I was a baby, so I think that process happened quite early for me. By the age of six I decided I could not eat my best friends, who at the time were some goldfish, so I became a vegetarian. Within a few years I was putting up my own hand-made ‘Go Vegetarian’ posters around the neighborhood. Although, I confess I am no longer vegetarian, I am thankful that my early relationships with animals taught me about empathy, spiritual connection and how to fight for things that mattered to me. I also attended an alternative school that encouraged us to write advocacy letters, and so at eleven years old I was writing to NASA decrying their vivisection practices, and contacting Nelson Mandela to critique post-apartheid South Africa’s continued employment of White police officers who had actively oppressed Black people during the apartheid regime. Having a mother who taught me about the political realities of our people, both past and present, was certainly a critical part of my awareness and engagement as well.

Then I went to a feminist all girls school where I was both empowered to have a voice as a young woman, but was also punished by some White teachers who were disconcerted by a little Black girl, albeit a light-skinned one, having academic gifts in math and science. When one such teacher, named Susan, accused one of the school’s few Black students of stealing a watch and the Principals called the police on this fourteen year-old girl, I decided to organize a walk-out.  The Principals then had to answer to us, the student body, for how they had reacted to our schoolmate. It turned out that the teacher had tormented that same student all year long, even inviting other students’ to ridicule her in class. I learned from a young age that in White so-called ‘progressive’ circles we, Black and Brown folk, were far from safe.

From grades ten to twelve I went to Weston Collegiate Institute, a high school resembling a prison where two thirds of the student body were people of colour and the majority of the teachers were White. They had no pretentions of ‘progressiveness’ and I observed the policing of Black students’ bodies and ways in which young Black people were miseducated. I listened to the Fugees and Dead Prez. My best friend and I performed Lauryn Hill, Bob Marley and Mahalia Jackson songs in duet at Black History shows, and I made my peers uncomfortable when I sang “Strange Fruit.” When I noticed the double standard that allowed Jewish or Muslim students to wear religious head-coverings, but barred young Black women, like myself, from wrapping our heads as part of a longstanding spiritually-rooted tradition, I created a petition to protest this injustice. It was during this time that I really clarified my own views about the problems of institutional education. I found the learning environment oppressive, from the rigid schedule and the constant grading, to the rows of desks and fluorescent lighting. I found it unfair that our education should be in the hands of people that didn’t love us and, often, even despised us.

Despite this unfriendly environment, I did learn a lot. I took anthropology and learned about the Yanamamo, the Bunyoro and the San peoples.  My readings confirmed my hunch that land-based/Indigenous societies seemed to have much healthier ways of doing things, and problems of homelessness, imprisonment, poverty, environmental degradation and racism were non-existent when these Indigenously living peoples were left to their own devices. In these societies where people were organized into smaller communities, one was not educated in cold institutions, but by one’s community members. One was not ruled by a distant stranger that one had never met. One knew where one’s food came from and where one’s waste went.  I learned how each Indigenous society had a complex spiritual tie to the earth that allowed them to live in relative balance. They were not perfect, but to my mind their ways of life were a far cry above the soul-sucking, oppressive, environmentally destructive path that our society was taking. I decided my career goal was to become a hunter-gatherer.

I pursued this goal to the best of my ability at the time. I spent a summer at Curve Lake First Nation with a family friend, Alice, so that I could begin to learn from the people whose land I was on about how to live in a better way with the land. I had begun visiting Curve Lake with my mom when I was about thirteen years-old. It was during discussions with Alice’s kids, who were mixed Anishishinabeg and White, that I realized that being mixed didn’t make one less Black or less Native. I realized that identifying with one’s marginalized identity was a kind of resistance.  So in the summer after I finished high school I mostly spent my time volunteering at the Curve Lake daycare centre and hanging out with the woods and lake there. Then I had an opportunity to spend a few months up in Red Lake with Alice’s daughter’s family. During my time with her family I did housework to earn my keep, and volunteered a bit with a local Indigenous youth group, but I actually spent most of my time in the bush. I had always loved the woods and during this period I determined that the trees were to be my main teachers. I learned to listen to them, and to connect to my own ancestors through them. This practice has been my source of guidance and wellness ever since.

 

Although I was keen to continue pursuing my career path as hunter-gatherer/tree-talker my mom was pretty keen for me to get my butt back in school. I was not to squander the opportunity that our ancestors had fought so hard for. So, having been granted scholarships to cover my tuition, I attended Trent University, which I had selected because there was lot of bush on the campus. I planned to camp out in the woods the whole time. I even took a tent and all my best woods clothes and everything, but then my Granny warned me that I would surely be raped if I slept outside alone. Having had this idea firmly planted in my head I conceded to sleeping in my dorm and just spent as much of the daytime as possible in the bush. I continued to learn from the trees and they guided me to pursue my commitment to social justice by working in solidarity with the Indigenous peoples’ of Turtle Island.

It was at Trent that I met Laura Hall and re-met Urpi Valer-Pine, the two Indigenous women with whom I co-founded the group Seven Directions. Urpi had, in fact, been one of the brown students who was also tormented by the same Susan teacher at the feminist all girls’ school.  Although, we had not been friends in middle school, all these years later we discovered that we shared a commitment to social justice, particularly Indigenous rights and gender equality.  So we formed a group. We hosted Decolonization Discussions and consulted with Indigenous elders about what decolonization could actually look like and how we could best contribute to it. We also fundraised for Indigenous groups fighting for their land, like the Secwepemc in BC and I took the bus out West to do some front-line land defending with Cheam First Nation.  I learned a lot in my time at Trent. I actually created my own degree specializing in ‘Decolonization: Indigenous Cultural Reclamation in Turtle Island and Africa.’ The program included Native Studies and African studies courses as well as a self-directed study course on genealogy and another on the role of religion in the colonization of Africa.

After three years spent exploring ideas of decolonization, consulting with local Indigenous community members and working in solidarity with land-rights struggles, Seven Directions began working towards the creation of a centre for decolonization. The idea was to buy land and establish a space where Indigenous peoples and allies could relearn their  land-based traditions and learn to live according to the treaties.

It took us some ten years to pull together the money to buy the land, which we finally did in 2013, and today we’re still working on building the infrastructure for the centre. Last year the group was able to host a first Hide Tanning workshop for the local Indigenous community with a grant we received. However, we found that it was a challenge to bring large groups into the space without sufficient resources to accommodate them. We’ve had to go back to fundraising so that we can create the necessary infrastructure, such as a big kitchen and showers. We are working on building both physically, emotionally and spiritually. We are still learning how to share space so we can function as a healthy community, while also developing relationships with the local Algonquin and Metis communities. the center.

As we work through the challenges of building an alternative to a colonial way of living, I am sometimes frustrated by how slow the process is. I know patience is a virtue, but at times I panic when I look up from this work to see how incessant and tireless the forces of destruction are as they tear up the earth in the name of profit, displacing our peoples and gunning us down or jailing us if we resist.  I am terrified that there will be nothing left by the time we relearn how to live in a good way. Perhaps it was in answer to these worries that I dreamt one night about riding a bus where I could not distinguish between people and baggage. In another part of the same dream I was with some Batois people, my ancestors, and we were learning the names of plants as we walked up a hill.  I woke up with thoughts of the Montgomery bus boycotts in my mind and I knew that we had to get off the bus! I felt that those of us who believed in a different way of doing things had to engage in a boycott as powerful as that of the Civil Rights movement. So I started plotting. After many conversation with Black, Indigenous and POC activists who seemed on a similar page to myself I wrote the Call Out below.

The Call Out is a work in progress. At present it is being revised to be more reflective of the Indigenous voices in our movement.  The movement itself is a work in progress. But I have to say I’m proud of some of that progress. Due to the overwhelming support from community members, we already have a website and a beautiful flyer that serve to educate people about how they can take steps towards creating a more just world. We’ve held three powerful actions that at once feed and honor spirit while, simultaneously resisting oppression. All this has happened in only a few months. We have many great social justice groups within the coalition already and we are building steadily all the time.  I know this revolution that we dream of will not happen overnight, and I know that we have to take time to do things in the right way, rather than rushing forward to our death, as the wise ones say. But I also know we are in a powerful moment and timing is everything. I know that my job is to listen closely to the guidance of my ancestors whether they speak through trees or dreams. I must keep my feet planted firmly on the soil and offer thanks and water daily in the constant flow of reciprocity. In doing so, I can play my role, not unlike like the salmon who performs the ultimate sacrifice to make way for future generations.


 

Amai Kuda
Amai Kuda is a Toronto based singer/songwriter, community activist and the mother of a young child. The name Amai Kuda means “mother to the will of the creator” in the southern African language Shona. Amai Kuda is a co-founder and co-coordinator of three organizations, Moyo Wa Africa, Seven Directions and R3, dedicated to the decolonization of African peoples and to indigenous solidarity respectively.Daughter of the internationally awarded writer, Nourbese Philip, who has used her work to speak out about all kinds of injustice, Amai Kuda grew up going to demonstrations and listening to her elders passionately discuss the history and future of African peoples. Her first music video, All My Fine Shoes, was part of The Reel World Film Festival 2010 and in October of 2011 she launched her first CD called ‘Sand from the Sea’, an indie release which she produced herself.

Ten Questions for Vandana Shiva

by  Nadine Compton

I met Vandana Shiva in the airport. When the automatic sliding doors at the gate revealed her luggage cart and her orange sari, I half expected a beam of light to illuminate her, such is the legend that surrounds her. Of course none did because Vandana Shiva is just a human being and not a saint. But what a human being she is.

After studying physics in her undergrad she received her Master’s in philosophy and her Ph.D. in quantum physics. In 1982 she set up the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, where researchers work with local communities and social movements to address important ecological and social issues.

In 1991 she established Navdanya, a movement to protect the diversity of living resources, especially seeds, and to advocate for organic farming and fair trade. And like she does after every ten years or so, she founded yet another institution, Bija Vidyapeeth, a sustainable living college. She has taught at universities, written books, and serves on the board of a number of organizations concerned with women, organic farming, and international property rights, among other issues.

So why was she talking to me? Well, she wasn’t really. She had flown from New Delhi to Toronto to give a lecture at her alma mater on “The Right to Food – Women, Development, and the Global Economy.” I was lucky enough to have a discussion with her in the car on her way to Guelph.

Nadine: What do you think the University of Guelph’s role is in improving access to the right to food?

Vandana Shiva: Well interestingly you know I was invited to get an honorary doctorate here maybe two or three years ago, and the president said, “We’re giving this doctorate to Dr. Shiva to remind ourselves that the university is a public institution.” Because you know universities are becoming so privatized and as an agricultural university, Guelph is being absolutely hijacked by the Monsantos of the world. And it’s a typical example of how public institutions or goods get privatized even though society continues to bear all of the responsibility. So, what should Guelph be doing? I think Guelph should be addressing the challenges of our times instead of being an extension agent of corporate agendas. It should be making the new connections that are being made by those that are really working on this issue, the connections between sustainability and ecological issues, the issues of work and livelihoods, the issue of climate change, the issues of health and nutrition, the issues of women’s knowledge. That’s an issue that’s also been addressed in this past election – tuition fees that young Canadians have to pay, and ultimately get into debt for. It was particularly contentious in Québec a few years ago, where there were protests and demonstrations due to an increase in fees.

N: Do you believe that tuition should be free?

VS: I believe that tuition should definitely not be so costly that students begin their lives borrowing and in debt. Students should be absolutely free intellectually and mentally, so that they can concentrate on their learning, on their education because beginning with debt, you’re forced to make the kinds of choices that’ll help you pay off the debt, rather than those that would help you grow to your best potential. And it’s not that the society is poor. I mean Canada is a rich country. It’s wrong for Canada to subsidize fossil fuels and burden the students. It’s just morally an outrage.

N: How is your approach to these topics different than your peers? Non-environmental activists?

VS: First, because a lot of the work I do today… I haven’t been groomed in it in a linear, one-dimensional way. I’ve addressed as an issue in nature. I see an ecosystem collapse and try to get what’s really happening. And in reality things are connected. My Ph.D. thesis, which I did at Western, was on non-locality and non-separability in quantum theory, so even science tells you that everything is related and yet we have a reductionist paradigm that pretends that everything is separate. Sadly most trainings are in that one dimensional groove and then when you get into the academic track, you want your publications, you want your tenure, then you have to continue in that. So a lot gets left out. Reductionist approaches don’t look at interdisciplinarity, don’t look at interconnections.

N: How did you transition from physics to agriculture? Was there any backlash from your colleagues when you made that move?

VS: No, no. Even when I decided to come here to do my higher studies it was with the conscious choice that I didn’t want to be a mechanical physicist. And I didn’t want to just be a cog in a machine. For me, physics was about understanding how nature works. And that understanding was what I followed all the way, especially why I specialized in the foundations of quantum theory, already by that time I was walking alone. So my trajectory was a trajectory which I was carving out for myself. When I went back, I consciously chose to join an institute where I could look at interactions between science and society because I’ve always been very troubled by incongruent messages. We are all always told, “Science removes poverty.” And India has the world’s third largest scientific community and this point one of the highest rates of poverty and malnutrition. And it didn’t hang together. The Green Revolution was given the Nobel Prize for peace and in 1984, Punjab was a land of violence. And Canada’s connected to that because the Air India flight that was blown up over Ireland was part of that whole extremist action. It didn’t make sense to get a prize for peace, but then there is violence. I was working for the United Nations University at the time and I said, “You’ve got to look at this.” The pressure really came at two points – not from any peer groups. I was in Bangalore and every day I saw more eucalyptus planting on the farmland and I couldn’t figure it out. So I told the institute that I was working for that we must investigate. And of course we found out that the World Bank was behind it, funding the growth of eucalyptus for raw material for the pulp industry and calling it social forestry because we had come up with that phrase with Chipko [the organized resistance against the destruction of Indian forests]. The study made a huge impact and the farmer’s movement emerged around it and the regional parliament had huge discussions about it and rejected the plan. The director of my institute was very fond of me and respected me and he says, “I’m so proud of you, but the World Bank’s been putting the pressure on me saying, ‘we will cut of this funding and this funding and this funding’ if you ever do research like this.” His name was Dr. Ramasan. I said, “Dr. Ramasan I’m not going to change. Any research for me is to find the truth. And no power in the world can suppress that urge in me. And instead of you losing grants for the institute which you need, I will create a space where I can work independently.” Which is why I created the Research Foundation, I left the institute. The next round of intense pressure was not from peers, but from Monsanto and its lobbyists. They’re not fellow scientists, they’re journalists.

N: How can we all be sustainable in our food consumption practices?

VS: I think the way to be sustainable in food consumption practices is to be sustainable in food production. And non-sustainability is built right into the industrial agriculture model because it uses ten times more inputs than it produces, it uses ten times more energy that it produces as calories, it uses ten times more finances for purchase of internal inputs than what farmers can earn which is why farmers go under, get into debt, and leave the land or in the case of India commit suicide – three hundred thousand of them. So it’s not sustainable. But fortunately we have better ways to produce. And the three things that – and this is the work that I’ve been doing through Navdanya, the movement I’ve built over the last thirty years – is that we have to move from monocultures to diversity, we have to move from chemicals and external inputs to ecological processes, internal inputs, what is called agro-ecology, we’ve got to move from globalized trade to local distribution. So that wealth gets distributed and more nutritious, healthier, fresher systems improve.

N: Do you have any advice for any future agricultural activists?

VS: One is, you’ve got to do the work that will take care of the Earth and of food. Just because those who are destroying the planet and preventing our right to food have huge amounts of money, be guided by your conscience. And be resilient.


 

Nadine Compton
Nadine Compton is a freelance writer and blogger who started and curates Pop Culture Middle East (popcultureme.blogspot.com), where in an effort to maintain her connections to her home in that area of the world, she publishes posts on Arabic cuisine and her interviews with notable Arab figures in the fields of political cartooning, film, hip hop radio, online comedy, feminist lingerie, environmental activism, as well as with women living in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. She can be found on: Facebook, Twitter & Instagram

Shovel to Fork: Organic Farming

By Megan Kanerahtenha:wi Whyte

There is no doubt that eating a natural and pesticide-free meal three times a day is a healthier option than devouring that juicy one-dollar Big Mac from McDonald’s. While I myself grew up with healthy options available to me, the discussion around organic agriculture and cuisine became a passion of mine when my daughter was born. I did my research on which products were from organic sources by the stickers they bore or the companies they came from; I spent countless hours blending sweet potatoes or plums into an edible mush simply because I knew what chemicals were put into them. While making my daughter’s food in bulk seemed to save money, the fact of the matter was that spending an extra five dollars on a box of strawberries was drastically outside my budget as a new mother. I needed a new solution that would meet the needs of my daughter, my values and my pocket book. With the help my father who has a particularly green thumb (not literally), we started our own organic garden from heirloom seeds and trusted plant nurseries. We grew vegetables, herbs and an ever-blooming source of strawberries—many of which were put in the freezer to use over the winter months. Not only was this more affordable and sustainable, but it was grounding, beautiful and filled with all sorts of healthy connections that extended outside of just our nutritional health. The food tasted better too. It tastes real.

Granted, there are now more grocery stores and food supplement locations that are opting to include an increase in organic products for their customers, their prices continue to fall outside the budget of many low to mid income families. Organic gardening and organic farming can be a more sustainable and cost-efficient option for healthy food security. Community-wide organic farming can also create the opportunity to build relationships with the land and our culture as well.

How does organic farming build relationships to the culture? It starts at the beginning of life. It starts by honouring the natural world and our own bodies through ways we work with the land (not just on it). The land teaches us about ourselves through the investment we make to maintain our gardens. This relationship to the process then reflects our relationships to others. Like other healthy relationships, a good relationship with our gardens starts with care, patience and a drive to be understanding. We made sure certain plants received partial sun and that others received full sun. We are aware of companion planting and can determine which plants empower each other to grow and which ones could not function together. To protect our little seedlings, we plant certain flowers and herbs around our gardens that naturally warded off animals and insects and we continue to prune, weed and water them as they grow. We put a lot of our selves into our food and medicines. Sounds a lot like building a community doesn’t it? Our ancestors knew a lot about the land and how to care for it as a community; the land in turn knew how to care for us as well. It was a relationship between entities and not an entitlement to humankind. There was gratification and thankfulness throughout the process and past the harvesting season. For myself, there is that same gratitude from shovel to fork, knowing that our spaghetti sauce was made from home-grown tomatoes or that our salad was tossed with cucumbers and lettuce picked by our children.

 

The most satisfying aspect of it all was seeing my daughter, as a two year old, pick out the wild garlic or the pole beans and know that it was for food and for medicine. She loved them; she really did. I was and am proud to see her develop a strong and ancestral relationship to the land through holistic health. In this way, organic Farming can be cultural security as well. Organic farming has potential be the start of a community-wide reconnection to the land. In building a relationship to the land we are building a relationship to ourselves; our identity (from ceremonies to the ohenton kariwatekwen) is tied directly to land. In many ways, we are the land. This connection is not only essential to our identity; it expands to influence all other aspects of our indigeneity as well.

I believe, that in order to truly fight for our identity or even to negotiate land claims, we (and the generations to follow) need reconnect to our bodies in a real way. In reality, how can we hope to fight for land claims if we have never touched the land?

Organic farming can be a way to not only increase food security and address our major health concerns (diabetes in particular), but it can give our community a large-scale opportunity to live our identity rather than label it. I see it as community-wide healing, restructuring, and grounding. Granted, organic farming can be a time-consuming investment that may not fit into the lives, deadlines and obligations of everyone. But maybe taking that time to slow down is exactly what we need to stop moving so fast and learn to look again through the eyes of our ancestors.


 

Megan Kanerahtenha:wi Whyte
Megan Kanerahtenha:wi Whyte is a young mother, artist, art educator, and art therapist candidate from the Kahnawake Mohawk First Nation community. She is currently completing a MA at Concordia University in Art Therapy, with focus on healing multigenerational trauma and attachment through visual media. Outside of her schooling, Megan is actively involved with the Kahnawake Youth Forum, the Native Youth Sexual Health Network and the Indigenous Young Women’s National Advisory Board providing an arts-based approach to social change. Her main project, Skatne Ionkwatehiahrontie, is a young parents program that aims to support attachment parenting, explore sexual health and connect youth to cultural networks. Megan’s social work in these spaces also inspire her artistic development, having her art pieces reflect concepts of healthy relationships, indigenous ‘womanism’, as well as environmental, reproductive, and social justice.

Earth Workers, Not Farmers

illustration of cotton

by Hunter Cascagnette 

Today, small scale commercial farming and agriculture are seen as noble and romantic occupations. But farming across Kanata (Canada) continues to be another form of occupation of Indigenous lands. The rural Canadian landscape is dominated by European settler farmers. These rural farming settlements are breeding ponds for White Supremacy and, as we have recently been reminded through the acquittal of a White farmer in the murder of Cree youth, Colten Boushie, a place of impunity for White farmers who act out violence on the bodies and lands of Indigenous peoples. Throughout the colonial history of these territories, farming and conventional agricultural practices have been pushed on Indigenous communities as a strategy for assimilation, cultural genocide, control and manipulation of the land.

Throughout the 1800’s Agriculture was viewed by the Canadian Government as the best solution for changing a nomadic lifestyle based on subsistence and relationships to vast territories into one that is fixed in place. First Nations people proved themselves to be very successful farmers because of their long history of stewarding these lands alongside growing and harvesting traditional foods. The success of First Nations farmers provoked the state to develop policies intended to protect the interests of settler colonial farmers. Reserve farmland was divided into small 40 acres plots. The small farm plots were created in order to promote individualism, and to continue disrupting Indigenous tribal systems. This process also informed the amount of agricultural land on reserves that would be available for surrender to the Federal government since the Canadian government considered any unused or unallocated land as open for sale or lease to the European settlers.

The 1890s brought more restrictions on farming, and new powers for Indian Agents on the reserves. The Permit System was introduced, requiring Indigenous farmers to have documentation in order to sell produce or to buy equipment. The Permit System required all First Nations to obtain a permit from an Indian agent before they could legally sell their products off-reserve. The restriction prevented Indigenous farmers from competing in the Canadian economy. Local businesses were prohibited from purchasing products from any Indigenous people who did not have a permit. Most infractions by First Nations farmers centred on the enforcement of the Pass and Permit provision in the Indian Act, which prohibited the free flow of people, goods and services to and from reserves. Native people were turned away and faced criminal prosecution if they did not have the mandatory permits or passes. The permit system did irreparable harm to the emerging initiatives of Indigenous farmers. There are cases where crops and produce rotted in the fields because permits could not be obtained.

So much of the natural state of the lands across Turtle Island has been altered through the project of removing Indigenous people and putting land into the hands of pioneer farmers. Agricultural workers have drained ancient wetlands, rivers and streams, polluted ground water with chemical pesticides, disrupted countless ecosystems including old growth forests (around the Great Lakes largely leaving only maple trees because they were seen to have monetary value), severely decreased Indigenous plant species and tree diversity, flattened land, removed massive amounts of rocks and minerals, grown monocrop vegetables and grains, stripped the earth of nutrients and microbial communities, introduced invasive European plant species, and on and on.

The Holland Marsh is a heartbreaking example of the types of violence that have been acted out on the land in the name of agriculture. Located 50 km north of Toronto, this ancient marsh land spanned over 7000 acres and drains into Cook’s Bay, part of Zhooniyaagama (Lake Simcoe). It is no coincidence that this land is known as some of the most “fertile” soil in Canada. The Holland Marsh is a shallow water basin that was once covered by part of glacial Lake Algonquin, and as the lake level dropped, the land shifted and a marsh was formed that was home to countless natural relatives. This marsh provided Indigenous people of these lands such as the Wendat, with the sustenance they needed to survive and thrive. As European settlers started to occupy the area (first through hunting and fishing which started around 1825), the fate of this ancient marsh was forever changed. Around 1900, the Bradford Mattress Factory was clearing the marsh of grasses to use as stuffing for mattresses. Then, in 1904 Dave Watson a Bradford grocer, persuaded William H. Day professor of physics at the Ontario Agricultural College, Guelph, to explore the possibility of draining the marsh. In 1925, without any consultation with First Nations people, the project of draining the wetland began by putting in a canal and dikes 28 km long and 2 m deep around the marsh to divert the “Holland River.” Pumps were installed to control the water table within the dikes. The project was completed in 1930. Immediately afterwards, 18 Dutch families settled on the marsh which marked the beginning of an expanding agricultural community. It took about 500 years for 30cm of organic plant vegetation to accumulate over a layer of clay that lay in the marsh basin. And in only 100 years, we lost this rich, ecologically diverse and ancient wetland to the prioritization of White settlements and agricultural practices.

Another form of ongoing theft of Indigenous lands across Turtle Island that needs to be scrutinized is the “back to the land” or “queer land project” fantasy. White folks who aspire to live on land either collectively with their friends, or in a nuclear family through private purchase of land in order to take up a lifestyle that is attune with nature. Living “rurally” is imagined to be more authentic and less stress inducing than the grind of urban life. Oftentimes, these folks are interested in “land based skills” and (invisibilized) traditional Indigenous practices, such as practicing herbal medicine with plants from these territories, traditional basket making, making maple syrup, harvesting wild plants and foods Native to these lands, wild crafting, harvesting and processing animals that are from these lands, and small scale farming or gardening. Although they claim to be against systems that uphold private land ownership on stolen Native lands, I see “radical” White “settler allied” queer and cis-straight folks legitimize their desire to settle on Indigenous lands in the name of “permaculture”(a holistic approach to farming inspired by Indigenous land stewardship methodologies based on synchronicities in nature) or farming, or by indulging their White saviour complex. The rhetoric often used is that if folks can use their privilege to gain access to private lands, they will be better settlers than the ones before by engaging in more ethical farming and land stewardship practices or by being committed to “sharing” or at least philosophizing about eventually returning title to the land to Indigenous people. The desire to fulfill these “back to the land” fantasies, has nothing to do with Indigenous land sovereignty. How will these ongoing forms of White entitlement and monopoly of these lands truly be different from the legacy of earlier European settlers?

The current agricultural industry across Turtle Island has been built on stolen land, and the stolen labour of Indigenous, Black, Latinx, Asian and People of Colour who have been pushed out of the contemporary rural landscapes through the projects of White Supremacy and cultural genocide. If you want to be a good ally by means of using your privilege for others to gain access to land, there are many Indigenous, Black, and People of Colour networks and collectives where you can donate money and resources to support people in self-determining how they will access lands and build their own land based community healing initiatives. More White settlers having title, control and access to Native lands is not helpful, no matter how benevolent or exceptional you might think you are. If you are a White settler who indulges “back to the land” or “queer land project” fantasies, take a hard look at why you feel entitled to access even more Indigenous lands, trees, plants, medicines, waterways, traditions and land based skills.

As an insider-outsider, a mixed-race Indigenous & White person, I move through rural spaces with ease because of my White passing privilege, despite having to painfully witness all the ways that settlers continue to hold the land hostage for their profit. Over the past few years, I’ve been working to develop good relations with the settler colonial farmer community that I work wage labour in, to create space where Two Spirit people can be prioritized on land, and to engage local farmers in conversations about Indigenous histories of the territories, their treaty responsibilities and land ownership. In the lands where “Ste. Marie Among the Hurons” is a celebrated historical tourist attraction commemorating the first site of French Jesuit settlement, I am actively involved in staging a small intervention in the spirit of *returning*. Myself and another Two Spirit mixed-race Haudenosaunee earth worker steward gardens that are home to many Native plant medicines and foods. By planting traditional foods such as flint corn, Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee beans, Gete Okosomin and ancient longhouse squash, Seneca sunflowers, sunroots, as well as medicine plants like sweetgrass, traditional tobacco, stinging nettle, wild bergamot, wild ginger, globe thistle, echinacea, blue flag, etc, we are bringing these relatives back to the lands where our ancestors once lived off such sustenance.

As Indigenous people trying to heal our lands, and revive our traditional diets and relationships to the land, from the ceremony of seeding to harvest, we are not farmers, we are earth workers. We work for our mother, the earth. To restore our lands, our traditional roles, treaty responsibilities, and relationships to all of our relations- so that our food/ plant medicines – and all our non-human relatives – can return and prosper; to help the earth, waters and our people to heal.

White settlers should not be profiting economically or morally from continuing to privately own and control land as they engage in the wide appropriation of Indigenous knowledges, while Native people in Kanata have title to only 0.01 percent of these lands. The maple syrup industry is a relevant example, as it trivializes and exploits our sacred cultural relationships to maple trees for the economic gain and access of White settlers. Sugar bushing has been so widely appropriated and practiced by non-Natives that it is now proudly claimed to be part of “Canadian” culture. Sugar bushing was made to be hard work for our people, now plastic tubing is strung from tree to tree in order to streamline the gathering of sap, eliminating a relationship based on intimacy and gratitude. Before the War of 1812, a prophet came to the Shawnee people. He was the brother of Tecumseh, a courageous Shawnee leader and war chief. This prophet was called Tenskwatawa, ‘The Open Door.’ He spoke of how European traders were cheating the Anishinaabeg by giving them whiskey in order rob them. Tenskwatawa attempted to curb the production of sugar making because the people were making too much of it, to the point that they were spoiling the trees by cutting them too much. This was being done so that the Anishinaabeg could sell the excess to the non-Natives in order to trade for European goods and pay off debts to settlers. The Prophet and his brother Tecumseh saw this participation in the settler economy as detrimental to Native independence and wellbeing. The brothers led a cultural revival movement to regain the sovereignty, power and access to resources. The Prophet said that the Anishinaabeg must return to the ways of the forefathers and decline any products or tools of the whiteman. The following is an excerpt of his teachings in reference to maple sugar translated to English. Part of a talk delivered at Le Maiouitonong entrance of Lake Michigan on May 4th 1807:

My Children – I made all the Trees of the forest for your use but the Maple I love best because it yields sugar for your little ones. You must make it only for their use, but sell none of it to the Whites. Besides by making too much you spoil the Trees and give them pain by cutting & hacking them for they have a feeling like yourselves. If you make more than is necessary for your own use you shall die & the maple will yield no more water. If a White man is starving you may sell him a very little corn or a very little sugar but it must be by measure & weight. My Children – you are indebted to the White Traders but you must pay them no more than half their credits because they have cheated you. You must pay them in skins, guns, & canoes but not in meat, corn or sugar,” Tenskwatawa urged us not to participate in the colonial, capitalist economy or to exchange the medicines of our maples, as well as other sacred life sustaining foods with European settlers.

As my father’s family goes out for our annual hunt every fall and winter, we cross through one provincial park, three designated conservation areas (held as “crown land”), and dozens of cottage properties. Being a group of both status and non-status Wiisaakodewininiwag, as soon as we set out into the bush, we are considered trespassers. It is through our hunting, trapping and fishing practices that the men in my family understand their roles and responsibilities as Wiisaakodewininiwag. Without that connection to the land, we would be vert lost. It is through our resilience as a people that we navigate through these colonial borders to keep our culture and harvesting practices alive. At this time of supposed reconciliation between Indigenous people and Canadians, secure access to land for all Indigenous people (First Nations, Inuit, Métis, Status, Non-Status, Mixed Race, living on and off reserve, etc.) needs to be established. “Crown Land” (provincial park & “protected lands”) and privately owned lands held by White settlers, need to be rematriated and returned to Indigenous, Black, Latinx and POC communities and initiatives.

Updates on “Alliston” Aquifer water protection:

The existing Teedon pit quarry excavation site (site 42) in Tiny Township Ontario regularly removes gravel, sand, stone, and clay from “French’s Hill”. This is called aggregate mining. “French’s Hill” is part of the natural filtration system that cleans our local aquifer. Our local water (the “Alliston” Aquifer) has been tested as some of cleanest water in the world. By continuing to extract from French’s Hill they are weakening the natural filtration system which keeps the local aquifer so clean. Dufferin & Aggregates, an Ireland based company and division of CRH Canada, has a current water removal permit that expires mid April. Dufferin have applied for a new 10-year permit to continue to extract water for washing gravel. The company seeks to expand their operation and obtain another permit to take 1.6 million litres per day from a well and 5.2 million litres per day from a washing pond 210 days a year. The water underneath the Teedon pit is recognized as some of the purest water in the world. The existing quarry site was operating an illegal washing pond and only obtained a permit for the pond after it was discovered. Currently, the quarry site is also being used as an asphalt and concrete transfer station. This means large piles of asphalt (bitumen product) are sitting on the land, with no barrier between the asphalt and the ground to prevent contamination of the precious groundwater below. Local residents have been complaining that the “dewatering” being carried out by Dufferin is affecting the quality of their drinking water with cloudy water coming out of the taps. There are currently “community liaison” meetings happening about the renewal of Dufferin’s water removal permit but these meetings are not open to the public. There has been little to no consultation with local First Nations and Métis communities about the permit renewal. People living in the area do not know asphalt is being stored at the site. There is strong opposition to the permit renewal from local Beausoleil First Nation community members, Williams Treaty FN community members, local Métis community members, other local Indigenous community members, and settler residents. Site 42 is a few kilometres from Site 41, where a proposal to put a landfill on top of this same water was shut down in 2009 after many Indigenous people and supporters held a camp across the road from the site in opposition to the landfill. This aquifer is connected to the Waaseyaagami-Wiikwed (Georgian Bay), and the “Wye” and “Tiny” marshes (2 of Ontario’s largest wetland marsh conservation areas). It is our responsibility to protect and defend clean fresh water and all water. Fresh water is under continual threat across Turtle Island. Locally, we will continue doing ceremony for these waters and showing up outside closed meetings. An All Nations water ceremony led by Josephine Mandamin was held on Saturday April 14th at the Site 41 location. Hundreds of Indigenous people from across Turtle Island came together in ceremony to protect these waters. If you want to donate money toward local water defence organizing contact “Anishinabe Kwewag & Supporters” or “Friends of the Waverly Uplands” (make contact with Anne Ritchie; a trusted member of the local settler allied group) on facebook.


Hunter Devyn Cascagnette is a Two Spirit (of Trans experience) mixed-race Wiisaakode/ Michif-Anishinaabe & Euro settler person. An earth worker, hunter, and musician, building towards Two Spirit centric land, food, and plant medicine sovereignty and ecological restoration in their father’s Métis homelands of southern “Muskoka”. They are the co-founder and co-coordinator of a Two Spirit led sustenance sovereignty initiative called Sacred Seeds Collective (FKA Mno Wiisini Gitigaanan),located within Dish With One Spoon and Williams Treaty territory, connected to the sacred waters of Waaseyaagami-wiikwed (Georgian Bay).